Karol Bagh | IAS GS Foundation Course | 29 May, 6 PM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Drishti IAS Blog

The UN's Challenges in the 21st Century

  • 20 Nov 2023

The United Nations Organisation was created on October 24, 1945, after the Second World War's damage. It is an intergovernmental body whose declared goals are to safeguard world peace and security, foster goodwill among nations, promote global collaboration, and act as a hub for harmonising national policies. This year, the focus is on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), along with the theme “Equality, Freedom and Justice for All”. The United Nations is essential in addressing global challenges because it serves as a platform for international cooperation, conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and the promotion of peace, human rights, and sustainable development. It plays a vital role in fostering a more interconnected, equitable, and peaceful world. However, it is important to acknowledge that the effectiveness of the UN in addressing global challenges can be influenced by political dynamics and the willingness of member states to cooperate.

Multifaceted Challenges of the United Nations

The UN faces a diverse range of complex and interconnected issues in the 21st century, reflecting the evolving global landscape. These diverse challenges require strong international cooperation, diplomacy, and a commitment to upholding the principles of the United Nations. However, the UN often faces obstacles such as geopolitical rivalries, national sovereignty concerns, and differing priorities among member states, which make finding effective solutions to these issues a complex and ongoing process.

Some of the major challenges include:

  • Climate Change

The most important issue of today is climate change, and this is a crucial time. The effects of climate change are unparalleled in magnitude, ranging from changing weather patterns that endanger food production to increasing sea levels that increase the risk of major flooding. The UN has been actively involved in addressing climate change through initiatives like the Paris Agreement 2015 and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The challenge lies in convincing all nations to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate impacts, and meet sustainability goals. Balancing economic development with environmental sustainability remains a complex task.

  • Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping

The UN plays a crucial role in conflict resolution and peacekeeping efforts around the world. Conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, and Ukraine are just a few examples of ongoing crises that demand UN intervention. The organisation faces challenges in negotiating peace agreements, ensuring humanitarian access, and maintaining stability in post-conflict regions. According to the UN Charter, the organisation was established to "save future generations from the tragedy of war." The Charter was officially signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, marking the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on International Organisation. It then became effective on October 24, 1945. A cross-cutting issue that is essential to accomplishing all of the Sustainable Development Goals is the upkeep of world peace and security. The Security Council, General Assembly, Secretary-General, Departments of Peacekeeping Operations, Field Support, Political Affairs, and the Peace Building Support Office are primarily some of the UN offices active in promoting and maintaining global peace and security.

  • Pandemics and Global Health

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for international cooperation in addressing global health crises. The UN, through the World Health Organisation (WHO), has played a central role in coordinating responses and vaccine distribution. However, equitable access to vaccines, misinformation, and political tensions has complicated these efforts.

  • Human Rights and Humanitarian Crises

The UN is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. Humanitarian crises, such as those in Syria, Myanmar, and Venezuela, pose significant challenges to upholding human rights. Balancing the principles of sovereignty and the responsibility to protect is an ongoing debate within the UN system.

  • Migration and Refugees

The 21st century has seen a significant increase in forced migration and refugee crises. Large-scale population-forced migration is a global calamity that calls for coordinated action from the international community under the direction of world leaders. A record-breaking number of migrants and refugees are crossing international boundaries to escape war, persecution, poverty, and other severe situations. Large-scale population relocation affects the social, economic, and political landscape in ways that go beyond casualties. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works to provide protection and assistance to displaced persons, but issues related to immigration policies, border control, and xenophobia have complicated efforts to address this challenge.

  • Terrorism and Transnational Threats

Terrorism, organised crime, and cyber threats are transnational challenges that require international cooperation. The UN works to counter terrorism through various agencies and conventions, but the evolving nature of these threats and differing national interests pose difficulties.

  • Nuclear Proliferation and Arms Control

Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and promoting disarmament are critical goals for the UN. The proliferation of nuclear technology and tensions between nuclear-armed states, such as the United States, Russia, and North Korea, present ongoing challenges to international security.

Resource Constraints for the United Nations

The United Nations (UN) has long struggled with limited resources in its efforts to effectively tackle the numerous global challenges it faces. These resource constraints have hindered its ability to fulfil its mission of promoting peace, security, human rights, and development worldwide. The UN relies heavily on member states' contributions to fund its various programs and initiatives. However, funding shortfalls have been a chronic issue. Member states often do not meet their financial commitments in full and on time, leading to budget deficits. These shortfalls can impede the UN's ability to carry out its essential functions, including peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid, and development projects. UN peacekeeping missions are vital for maintaining peace and stability in conflict-affected regions. However, these operations are frequently underfunded, resulting in inadequate resources for troops, equipment, and logistical support. This can compromise the safety and effectiveness of peacekeepers on the ground.

Political Divisions among Member States of the United Nations

The UN operates by trying to prevent war, assisting parties to conflict in negotiating a settlement, sending peacekeepers, and fostering circumstances that will allow peace to endure and develop. To be effective, these activities should complement one another and frequently overlap. Political divisions among member states of the UN are indeed a significant challenge that can hinder collective action on a wide range of global issues. These divisions can be attributed to various factors, including differing national interests, historical conflicts, ideological differences, and power imbalances. Addressing these divisions is crucial for the UN to effectively fulfil its mandate of promoting peace, security, and sustainable development worldwide. It requires a commitment from member states to prioritise the common good over narrow national interests and to work together to find mutually acceptable solutions to global challenges. Multilateralism and diplomacy should remain at the core of these efforts, as they offer the best hope for a more peaceful and prosperous world.

The Need for UN Reform

The need for UN reform is imperative to adapt to the evolving global landscape and to fulfil its mission of promoting international peace, security, and development effectively. This reform should be pursued to enhance the UN's capacity to address current and future challenges while upholding the principles of equality, justice, and cooperation among nations. The world today is vastly different from what it was in 1945 when the UN was established. New global powers have emerged, and the geopolitical landscape has shifted dramatically. Reforming the UN's decision-making structures, particularly the Security Council, is essential to reflect these changes and ensure equitable representation among nations. Ensuring that UN resources are allocated efficiently and transparently is essential. Reform should focus on optimising budgetary practices and eliminating waste to ensure that funds are directed toward programs that have a real impact on global development.

Diplomacy and International Cooperation

Diplomacy and international cooperation are the essence of the United Nations, enabling the organisation to address global challenges, maintain peace, and protect human rights. The UN serves as a platform for nations to collaborate on multifaceted issues like climate change, disarmament, and security. The Security Council relies on diplomacy to tackle global security concerns through discussion and resolutions. The UN offers a space for negotiating global governance matters, from trade pacts to arms control. Diplomacy and cooperation among member states shape international policies for the benefit of the global community.

Role of Civil Society and NGOs in Supporting the Efforts of the UN

Civil society and NGOs are vital partners in advancing the UN's global mission. They enhance the UN's effectiveness by promoting peace, human rights, sustainable development, and social justice. The UN recognises their significance, fostering collaboration through initiatives like the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). UNDEF primarily supports regional civil society organisations during the democratisation phases. Over 1,500 CSOs have formal affiliations with the UN Department of Global Communications (DGC), aiding information dissemination and public awareness about the UN's work. These partnerships empower NGOs to align with the UN Charter and promote a better understanding of global issues.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the United Nations remains an essential organisation for addressing global challenges and maintaining international order in the 21st century. However, it must evolve, adapt, and reform to effectively address the complex and interconnected issues of our time. The UN's enduring relevance lies in its ability to foster cooperation, uphold human rights, and promote global stability, making it a vital institution for a more peaceful and prosperous world.


  1. https://unausa.org/chapters/chapter-resources/united-nations-day-2023/#:~:text=This%20year%2C%20we're%20focusing,Freedom%20and%20Justice%20for%20All%E2%80%9D.
  2. https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15318.doc.htm
  3. https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/climate-change#:~:text=Climate%20Change%20is%20the%20defining,scope%20and%20unprecedented%20in%20scale.
  4. https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/peace-and-conflict-resolution
  5. https://www.un.org/en/our-work/maintain-international-peace-and-security#:~:text=The%20UN%20accomplishes%20this%20by,one%20another%2C%20to%20be%20effective.
  6. https://www.un.org/en/get-involved/un-and-civil-society
  7. https://news.un.org/en/focus/refugees-and-migrants

SMS Alerts
Share Page